New Putting Stroke Helps Collin Morikawa to Secure WGC Title
IF Collin Morikawa has a perceived weakness it is on and around the greens, but the 24-year-old US PGA champion put that argument to bed with a three-shot victory at the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession in Florida.
He led by two overnight and, after bogeying the second, carded four birdies to win on 18 under. Norway's Viktor Hovland finished with a 67 to end joint second on 15 under with Americans Brooks Koepka and Billy Horschel, who both shot two-under 70s.
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy closed with a 71 to finish on 12 under. McIlroy was four shots behind Morikawa going into the last day but struggled to get a challenge going with a round which included five birdies and four bogeys.
"What a week," said Morikawa, the 2020 US PGA Championship winner, who has now won four PGA Tour titles in 19 months. "I was working on so much the past couple of weeks. My game felt so good and I'm so excited right now."
A birdie at the third briefly left McIlroy only two behind Morikawa but two bogeys in his next three holes effectively ended his victory hopes before he produced a late rally to secure a top-10 finish.
Morikawa is widely regarded as being one of the best iron players in the game but his putting has been seen as an issue. But he just might have solved the problem after a few lessons. He won the tournament using a “saw” putting grip, rotating his right hand around to push the club through the hitting zone. He changed his stroke after speaking to Mark O’Meara. And he also got a chipping lesson from Paul Azinger.
“I heard about Mark O'Meara using this saw grip,” said Morikawa,. “And out of the blue for 18 holes at TPC Summerlin, I was like, let's give it a shot. And I made nothing. Like I made zero putts.
“But for some reason, I couldn't sleep. And that's never happened to me. I've never thought about putting or golf this much in my life, because it felt so good. It just felt so different on how I was putting that I knew I was heading down the right path.”
Morikawa says he spent an hour with O’Meara.
“He felt comfortable with it,” O’Meara said. “He said it’s the best he’s felt on the greens. I’m not surprised to see the kid win. He’s got an unbelievable future ahead of him. Look, I had mentors, a lot of the great players before me helped me along the line, and I’m always there to help young players.”
Morikawa won the Workday Charity Open in July and the PGA Championship in August but missed the cut at the U.S. Open and the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. And after finishing way down the field at The Masters he decided that he needed to work harder at his game and address the weaknesses.
“I got complacent,” he said. “I was getting lazy.”
He used the new saw putting grip from start to finish at The Genesis Invitational and although he finished in a tie for 43rd, he felt sufficiently encouraged to stick with it.
And at The Concession, Morikawa averaged 27 putts per round and gained nearly four strokes on the field. His wonderful ball-striking kept him out of trouble on a course where disaster lurked around every dogleg.
Hovland might have won outright, or at least forced a playoff, were it not for his quadruple-bogey eight on the ninth hole, his last of the day, in the second round in Friday. Cameron Smith was in contention until suffering a third-round 77. Bryson DeChambeau opened the tournament with a 77.
Morikawa kept the big numbers off his scorecard and led the field with 27 birdies.
Players wore red and black to honour Tiger Woods, who suffered compound leg fractures in a car accident in L.A. Woods said on Twitter that he was touched; players at The Concession said it was the least they could do for a man who transformed the game.
Grace Dedicates Emotional Victory to Late Father
Branden Grace completed an emotional victory in the Puerto Rico Open, winning the tournament just a month after the death of his father. He shot a final round of 66, finishing eagle-birdie to end the week on 19 under par for his first PGA Tour victory since the RBC Heritage in 2016.
Tied for the lead at 18 under heading down the par-five 18th, Grace reached a front bunker in two. He flew his shot about halfway to the hole from 80 feet and watched it release over a ridge and roll out to five feet. He duly holed the putt to defeat Jhonattan Vegas by a shot.
Vegas finished with a 65. Local favorite Rafael Campo, shot 70 and tied for third with Grayson Murray, three shots back. It was the third top 10 for Campos in Puerto Rico, and his highest finish.
Grace later admitted that as he came down the stretch he was thinking about his father, Peter, whom he lost last month in South Africa to Covid-19 complications. Peter Grace, who ran a restaurant and shop in Knysna, gave Brandenhis first set of golf clubs and got him on his way.
The South African felt his father was looking down on him and helping him out when he holed a bunker shot for an eagle at the 17th hole, and again at the 18th. After a couple of poor years, Grace said the victory gets him back on the his path to playing the big events again and controlling his schedule. It also puts him back in contention for another Presidents Cup berth, too. He didn’t make the team the last time around, and it stung.
When Grace’s bunker shot fell into the hole at the 17th he raised his sand wedge in the air with his left hand, and when he retrieved his ball, his head and eyes turned to the sky. “Just give me that strength for one more hole,” Grace said. “Just a couple more good swings …”
Grace and his wife had talked about Peter on the phone before the final round. Grace said the conversation brought tears to his eyes.
Grace started the day a shot out of the lead. The wind was blowing strongly. Six players either held or shared the lead but Grace missed only one fairway and one green and was one of only two players in the top 10 not to record a single dropped shot.
Vegas, 36 and seeking his fourth victory, birdied seven of his first 12 holes but then struggled. He reached the 600-yard 18th in two and two-putt for a birdie to get back to 18 under, but only after dropping a shot at the par-4 14th. He three-putted from just off the green at the par-5 15th and failed to birdie 16 and 17, each playing short and downwind.
“I shot five under on the front nine, and I birdied 10 and 12, which was absolutely perfect,” Vegas said. “Overall, it was a solid day. I wish I had played the final four holes a little bit better. It’s been a couple long years for me, so it was good for me to get back in there with the feeling of winning again. This was a good experience.”
Grace, once ranked 35th in the world, entered the tournament ranked 147th. The victory gets him into the 2021 Players Championship, the PGA Championship, select invitational events such as the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial Tournament, the 2022 Sentry Tournament of Champions, and makes him exempt through 2022-23.
Afterwards he dedicated his victory to his father. “It was an emotional day,” Grace said. “I thought about him a hell of a lot out there. The last tee shot, I was really struggling. I knew he was watching over me. I knew he was guiding me.”
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